I have sometimes felt that I must stop everything else I am doing in life and simply focus on my writing. When I was writing Big Sister, I would shut out everything and everyone and slip into the world that I created. It was not hard to do because I knew the characters extremely well, and the leads “spoke” to me. “They” wrote it, more so than I did. I loved every minute of the process and without a doubt, of all my creative endeavors, and there have been many, writing a screenplay, especially Big Sister, has given me the greatest joy.
But, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, being a screenwriter is not enough. You also have to tirelessly self-promote, perhaps be aggressive, even obnoxious. You have to hound people. You have to remind people who you are. You have to convince people that what you’ve written is worth 90 minutes of their time to read. And further, you must convince someone that investing a million or more (preferably more) is also worth it for them. None of these come naturally to me. I can pretend and say they do, but they do not.
Perhaps as a result of that, I have created everything on my own. In other words: I have produced my own album (solo piano), published my own book (“Freelancing in Tokyo”) and written and produced my own films. I have learned a lot through these experiences. But I don’t think I ever went into any of them thinking, “Since I am the producer, I am therefore God, and I do not need to rely on others’ opinions.” Far from it. I have always had a team of some sort. To paraphrase Hillary Clinton’s famous quote, it takes a village to raise a creative project. There may be someone who spearheads the event, but without the input and advice and opinions of respected peers, it isn’t going to happen… at least that is how I feel.
I’ve been fortunate to meet so many talented and smart people in my journeys to put together my projects. I’ve been amazed at their input… but then again… when someone is removed emotionally from a project, it is sometimes easy for them (assuming they have the ability and perhaps some qualifications) to offer a fresh perspective on what you, the creator, thinks is so glorious and perfect.
Fortunately, I learned a long time ago that criticism, if constructive, is gold. I have been lucky enough to interact with two top television writers over the years. Both of them were unsparing in their criticism. I would call their comments harsh, brutal and sometimes cruel. But because I knew they knew more than I did, I did not flinch (okay, maybe I did once or twice). I “took it,” and I rethought my projects, and all of them were improved because I applied what I learned from them.
In the same way, there are times I will receive notes from highly intelligent, creative people… whether they be peers, colleagues or the nameless, faceless reader from a high-profile contest, and I’ll think: These people really put their heart and soul into these notes, and I really value them… even if I disagree with them.
Recently, on Big Sister, we received what I can only call extremely well-written notes. The reader thoroughly invested his or her time in our script and I was amazed, actually, at the detailed observations. Nonetheless, the reader believed we would have a stronger script if we had what they considered to be more of a “happy ending.” They wanted further participation from minor characters in ways that I found to be completely at odds with what Blake and I had written, and they wanted “justice” for the antagonist (one of the two in the script). And yet… I completely disagreed. Sometimes characters get off “scot-free” (their term) for things we, the audience, know are wrong. Sometimes the protagonist suffers and learns lessons in harsh ways… and most times, in real life, there are no happy endings.
Big Sister is far, far from a dark story. There are harsh lessons for Lynn, our main character, to learn. But there is a reunion of sorts between her and Suzanne, her younger sister… a reunion which hints at a fresh start. I find this very effective and powerful. I understand the desire to have happy endings, but the more films I watch, the more I know that often times they are fabricated to give the audience what they want. I feel Blake and I made an intelligent compromise with the hint of a new beginning for Lynn… and we definitely end on a positive note, with lessons learned all around.
The point I want to make is, and forgive me for using a cliched expression: “Take what you get.” In other words: extract from notes what has value for you and be grateful for the other ones, as well. Someone took the time to invest in your project, and that is half the battle.